CHICAGO — The threes fell for the University of Illinois and never stopped falling for Iowa on Thursday night.
The Hawkeyes connected on 12 triples to beat Illinois 83-62 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago to end Illinois' season.
The Illini (12-21) trailed by just six points at halftime before the Hawkeyes blew the doors open in the second half with a 46-31 scoring advantage. By the time there were two minutes left, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood pulled his starters and sent in four walk-ons to wrap things up.
All the Illini starters and key rotation players — save for Alan Griffin, who was on the court with the walk-ons — had left to do was watch and begin reflecting on what was an up-and-down season.
At one point in the second half, Iowa extended the lead to 27 points.
“They made shots," Illinois freshman Ayo Dosunmu said. "When they get hot they don’t miss. They just make shot after shot after shot."
In fact, that's what the Hawkeyes did. Nicholas Baer drilled five triples to lead the team with 17 points and Jordan Bohannon hit a pair for 12 points. The outside game complemented Tyler Cook inside, who hammered home ferocious dunks on his way to 12 points and five rebounds. Seven different Hawkeyes hit a 3-pointer in the game.
“They made shots," sophomore Trent Frazier said. "We gave up too many 3s. Iowa is a great basketball team and I won’t be shocked if they make it to the championship game. They’re really good shooters. Tyler Cook is a monster."
It was a bit of déjà vu from a Jan. 20 meeting where the Hawkeyes hit 15-of-21 from 3-point land, and, of course, last season when the Hawkeyes ended Illinois' season at the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden.
In two games against Illinois this season, Iowa shot 27-of-44 from 3-point land. Those stats, Underwood said, are contrary to what the Illini have shown while defending the perimeter. But against Iowa, mistakes and missed rotations turn into 3-pointers by the dozen.
"They're just a smart team," freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili said. "When you make a mistake, they make you pay every time. When we made a mistake tonight, they made us pay. They're a great shooting team. Obviously we saw they made a lot of shots."
Illinois was hanging around in the second half, finding an answer for Iowa's runs. With 13:58 remaining, Iowa led 50-42 after a Bezhanishvili putback bucket.
Then the walls caved in.
Baer hit a 3-pointer. Ryan Kriener hit a layup and followed that with a 3-pointer of his own to extend the lead to 58-42 with 12:15 left — just 1:43 after the Illini got within 8 points. For good measure, Iowa put the finishing touches on Illinois with a 15-5 run to lead 73-47 with 6:58 left, effectively ending Illinois' season and ensuring the Hawkeyes a spot in the quarterfinals on Friday against Michigan.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery credited the Hawkeyes' lack of turnovers for the second-half boon.
"Well, I think our offense was better, too, and sometimes one is a function of the other," McCaffery said. "You know, we only had one turnover in the whole second half against a team that's pressuring. I thought we moved the ball, we established a low-post game, we got a little bit in transition, and consequently we were able to get our defense back. If your defense isn't back, Illinois is really tough to play against.
"So I think by virtue of us not turning the ball over, getting good shot opportunities, shooting a high number, getting our defense back, we were in a position to stop them a little bit easier."
The youth movement that has been on display all season was in full force on Thursday. Bezhanishvili, a freshman, led the team with 11 points. Tevian Jones, a freshman, hit three 3-pointers off the bench for 11 points. Dosunmu, a freshman, scored 10 points and Frazier, a sophomore, scored 11.
There are pieces in place for the Illini moving into Underwood's third season.
"As I told this group, tonight was an ending, but I loved coaching this team each and every day," Underwood said. "This is the beginning of bringing Illinois basketball back."